Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has a reputation for being a bland, if dutiful, Boy Scout, unwilling to make waves in a Democratic Party that seems ready to crown Hillary Clinton its nominee.
But perhaps that goodie two-shoes persona is no more.
During an appearance on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, O'Malley seemed ready for the first time to put up a real fight for the nomination, portraying himself as the Democrats' true progressive warrior and slamming Clinton, albeit with glancing blows, for being next-in-line for the royal presidency.
Lumping her in with the Republican presidential front-runner Jeb Bush, O'Malley said, "The presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families. It is an awesome and sacred trust ... to be earned and exercised on behalf of the American people." He went on to call for "new leadership and new perspectives," and for "a president who's willing to take on powerful, wealthy special interests."
When asked if Clinton would be the one to take on those special interests, O'Malley didn't exactly bite, but he did show some teeth: "I don't know where she stands," he responded, gamely. "Will she represent a break with the failed policies of the past? Well, I don't know."
Those new found fightin' words rocketed O'Malley into the headlines, raising questions of whether he is the liberals' greatest hope for a challenger to Clinton, who they see as too centrist and too tied to Washington and Wall Street elites. In recent months, the activist left has mounted a feverish campaign to draft liberal hero Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren into the race. (Warren has said repeatedly that she is not running.) Other potential challengers include Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who would run far to Clinton's left, and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who would right to her right on some social issues.
Among that rather anemic field, O’Malley, who was mayor of Baltimore for seven years, governor of Maryland for eight, and led the National Democratic Governors Association in 2012, is now the clear front-runner of the second tier contenders for the Democratic nomination. He brings with him fund-raising capabilities and infrastructure that neither Sanders nor Webb have readily available. He also has a strong liberal record as Maryland governor, where he passed legislation tightening gun control, legalizing same-sex marriage, ending the death penalty, and expanding access to marijuana. More recently, he has gone on the offensive on economic and Wall Street reform—the beating heart of the progressive movement—calling for the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, a law that separated investment banking from commercial banking, and that was repealed in 1999 under President Bill Clinton.
But as of now, liberals and progressives are eyeing his potential with skepticism. O'Malley's biggest challenge, after all, remains formidable: almost nobody knows who is is.
In early presidential polls, Clinton routinely polls over 60%, while O’Malley clocks in as just slightly better than a blip, at under 2%. This week, he is again scheduled to visit New Hampshire, the site of the first Democratic primary.